Six Toasts to the Town.
By Meredith Kay.
I never would have imagined that I would love a liqueur made from artichokes, or that anyone could make such tiny smores as a garnish for a cocktail, but you never know what you are going to encounter while drinking your way through the San Antonio Cocktail Conference.
This year marks the sixth annual Cocktail Conference for San Antonio, and for one weekend in January, mixologists, distillers and party people descend upon the Alamo City from every corner of the country, and even some from across the pond. The event is growing larger each year, and it raises money for Houston Street Charities, with this year’s proceeds benefiting The Children’s Shelter, Clarity Child Guidance Center and TEAMability.
Several restaurants participate in the kickoff pairing dinners the week before the conference, but the real fun begins with the media party on Wednesday night. This year’s media event was held in a courtyard at La Villita, and sponsored by the Girl Scouts. We were treated to a sneak peak of the delicious libations to come, with concoctions like “The Centennial”, a tasty blend of Chila Orchata Cinnamon Cream Rum, rice milk, Buffalo Trace bourbon and honey syrup. Topping off each cocktail were the tiniest smores, painstakingly blowtorched to a golden brown. They were the most adorable little things, and we drank every drop, savoring the sweet and creamy spiced flavor.
My friend, Aida Najar, and I wandered the courtyard sampling everything from a creamy tequila, to a naughty little cocktail paying homage to the night’s sponsor. The “Troop Counselor Nasty” combined Corralejo Silver Tequila and Borghetti Sambuca, with pineapple syrup and lime juice, to create a wild cocktail that both burned and strangely satisfied the taste buds. Following our tequila cocktail tastings, we ventured over to find some outstanding Mexican food being served by none other than Diana Barrios and Blanca Aldaco themselves. Icons here in town, these ladies run two of the most successful restaurant groups in San Antonio. It was quite a treat to be able to chat with them both at the same event.
Thursday dawned with a slight headache, and a glimpse of the mornings to come over the four-day event. This year, the Cocktail Conference Grand Opening Gala moved from the Majestic Theatre, where it had outgrown the narrow staircases and passageways, to the DoSeum, San Antonio’s brand new museum for kids. It seemed appropriate to hold an event for adults in a venue where we were allowed to act like kids in a grown up candy store.
One step inside the door and we were immediately greeted with an explosion of lime green shabby chic décor, and a couple of hat-wearing Absolut Lime ambassadors passing out swag bags. Absolut outdid themselves with their displays of all things lime green, as they introduced their latest lime infused vodka. There were lime green jellybeans, lime green candy corn, lime green rock candy, and of course vases and vases full of lime green limes. As the first stop of the evening, we headed to the big green wall, covered in lush foliage to taste the Absolut “ Lime Up”, where Absolut Lime Drops and Mules were served in cold metal cups. The cocktails were promptly devoured, with the cute little cups tossed in our swag bags, to be reintroduced this summer out by the pool.
As we strolled through the museum checking out the cocktail offerings, I was impressed by the pretty people having a great time. This event draws a good-looking crowd, including the bartenders, who hail from the hottest bars and clubs across the country. Not to be overlooked, we sauntered over to the beautiful Avion Tequila ladies, dressed as sexy flight attendants, serving the Avion “Mango Tango”. An interesting mix of sweet and sour, this cocktail highlighted the Avion Reposado Tequila with mango and black peppercorn juice, Filthy Black Cherry Agave Syrup, Peychaud’s Bitters, and a splash of citrus. The rim of the glass was finished with a cinnamon sugar rim, and made for the perfect winter cocktail.
Nothing goes better with creative cocktails than virtually anything cooked up by Jason Dady. So, we made a beeline to his table, when we spotted the handsome, blonde chef chatting easily with guests about his Wild Mushroom Marinated Beef Tenderloin Flatbread. Topped with créme fraiche and micro greens, this appetizer left us wanting more, but to take another serving was to risk bodily injury from the hungry hordes in line behind us, so we moved on.
Of all of the cocktails encountered this year, it seems that the “Black Manhattan” was a popular choice among the bartenders and liquor companies. Opening night’s “Black Manhattan” featured Russell’s Reserve Ten Year Bourbon, Averna Amaro and Angostura Bitters. It was not a subtle flavor, and its warmth could be felt all the down to your toes. One taste was all we could handle at this point, as my friend, Joanne, and I swore that we would pace ourselves this year on Opening Night. Thursday night at the Cocktail Conference has left me cross-eyed at the end of the evening on several occasions.
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